Gabe Kapler has two front-runners for Giants closer, wants flexibility

Gabe Kapler has two front-runners for Giants closer, wants flexibility

Giants manager Gabe Kapler will treat this 60-game regular season like the playoffs, viewing it as a race to the finish line. Which brings us to this: Who will be responsible for the final three outs?

The Giants lost All-Star closer Will Smith, who had a 2.76 ERA and 34 saves last season, to the Atlanta Braves in the offseason. Kapler doesn't have an obvious choice as his closer, but believes the Giants have at least two solid options to end games. 

“During spring training, Tyler Rogers emerged as a guy who can take really important pockets of the opponent’s lineups, because he’s got through left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters, induce ground balls and get uncomfortable swings,” Kapler said Monday on KNBR's on "Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks" show. “There’s no real stretch in anybody’s lineup that would be overwhelming for Rog.

"He’s a good candidate.”

Rogers, 29, didn't allow any runs over 4 1/3 innings in spring training while striking out seven batters. He finally made his MLB debut last season and made the most of it. The submarine-style pitcher went 2-0 with 1.02 ERA in 17 appearances out of the bullpen. 

As Kapler mentioned, Rogers was able to get batters out from both sides of the plate as well. Right-handed hitters hit .209 off Rogers, while lefties were even worse with just a .136 batting average. 

The other name Kapler mentioned has much more experience at the big league level. Left-hander Tony Watson seems like a viable candidate to step in for the departed Smith. Kapler agrees.

“Having Tony Watson on a roster is a real plus," Kapler said. "Because of the experience, because he’s been so effective against left-handed batters for so many years and for various clubs. It’s nice to know that if you are facing two or three lefties in a row, he’s a guy that you can have take down that pocket of a lineup, but he’s also effective against righties.

"Both of those guys are good options.”

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Watson, 35, hasn't closed games 2016 and 2017. He had a 4.17 ERA over 54 innings last year, but a 2.59 ERA the year before.

One thing is clear, though. No matter who Kapler chooses as his "closer" after Summer Camp, it won't be a one-man job. It's no secret Kapler is a believer in modern analytics and mentioned Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader, who comes in during any situation, throughout the interview. He wants flexibility, and both Rogers and Watson should provide that.

“The one thing I just want to make clear is while if somebody emerges as a surefire closer option for us, a guy that fits the ninth inning, we’ll absolutely put that person in that role," Kapler said. "However, we want these guys to be flexible to take down multiple innings, because as you guys know, we’re not going to have our starters built up by the end of camp to take five, six, seven innings. 

"So, we’re going to need a little more bulk from some of our relievers."

[RELATED: Three takeaways as Giants release initial 51-player pool]

Kapler believes Rogers is a reliever who can pitch back-to-back days and possibly multiple innings. Rogers pitched multiple innings three times last season, and back-to-backs days four times. 

Expect the Giants to get very creative with their pitching this season. That certainly includes their so-called closer.

Stat shows Giants' playoff hopes get boost in 60-game 2020 MLB season

Stat shows Giants' playoff hopes get boost in 60-game 2020 MLB season

The traditional 162-game MLB season is a grueling marathon, playing out over a seven-month stretch that requires travel all over the country. However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced MLB to adopt an abbreviated 60-game season for 2020, reportedly beginning on July 23 with a nationally-televised showdown between the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, and limit travel to three geographic regions.

According to FanGraphs' win probability formula, this shortened season certainly will benefit the Giants' chances at making the 2020 MLB Playoffs.

[RELATED: Gabe Kapler, Giants will support Buster Posey if he opts out of season]

It makes sense on the surface. Playing over a hundred fewer games allows for exponentially more variance for how the final standings will look at the end of September, helping teams that feature a below-average collection of talent.

However, if you took the 60 Giants games last season from today's date (July 5) to Sept. 12, San Francisco went 31-29 over that span. Over the same stretch, the Colorado Rockies went 18-42, the San Diego Padres went 25-35, the Los Angeles Dodgers went 36-24 and the Arizona Diamondbacks went 32-28. The Rockies finished just ahead of the Padres in the overall standings and Arizona had a much wider margin over the Giants for second place, but those were the only differences over the full 162-game sample size.

Also, FanGraphs has the Giants at just a 4.3 percent chance of earning a postseason berth as of July 5, so the odds remain pretty unfavorable. Just four teams (Marlins, Tigers, Mariners, Orioles) have a lower probability of making the 2020 playoffs.

Nevertheless, Giants fan can take solace in what many expect to be a wide-open season in MLB. If Gabe Kapler's group can get hot at the right time, they could sneak right in and snatch a berth in the postseason.

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Giants' Buster Posey, Brandon Belt face inevitable coronavirus risk

Giants' Buster Posey, Brandon Belt face inevitable coronavirus risk

To help keep players, coaches and umpires safe, MLB has eliminated the pre-game exchange of lineup cards and instituted new rules regarding how close players can get on the field. The operations manual asks that players stand at least six feet apart during the anthem every night and discourages pre-game fraternization with members of the opposing team. 

The manual includes two full pages of bulleted on-field protocols, including one that says "Players, umpires, and other on-field personnel should practice physical distancing to the extent possible within the limitations of competition and the fundamentals of baseball."

When people around the game started examining the new rules, though, one thing became crystal clear. There are parts of every game that you can't regulate, particularly at the plate and first base. 

You can ask players to do all they can to socially distance, but there's no getting around the fact that every night at least 18 of them will dig into the box, many at the back of it because of hitting preferences, with two catchers in the crouch, breathing heavily as they go through a game. Behind the catchers there still will be an umpire, and they tend to lean on shoulders and get as close as possible to get a better view of the pitch.

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"I've definitely thought about that," catcher Buster Posey said. "I don't know if umpires will have to wear masks or not. I think that would be one thing that would help, but obviously you can't expect the batter to come up and wear a mask or a catcher to wear a mask (under his catcher's mask) during a game."

The current version of the new rulebook does not ask that umpires wear masks as they stand behind the catcher, although it does encourage distancing when possible and demands that they complete COVID-19 education before the season and during.

Posey will be at the greatest risk of exposure on a nightly basis, with Brandon Belt also sticking out from most regular fielders, and not just because the first baseman is the endpoint of so many plays (last year Belt caught more than 1,000 outs at first). When opposing runners reach first, Belt will have to hold them close, often swiping down on throws over to first. 

"Obviously we're going to be pretty close over there," he said. "I'll try not to get in anybody's face anyway. I think I can do the same thing I've always done. Obviously we're going to be close but I'll do my best to stay as far away from them as possible while still being able to play my position. There's probably going to be a little less talking over there for me, which I probably shouldn't be doing anyway. Avoiding face-to-face talking will help go a long way."

While Posey expressed serious reservations about playing this season, Belt, in his first interview since March, said he's optimistic about the season. 

Belt has spent the hiatus back home in Nacogdoches, Texas, but he said his county wasn't a hot spot in recent weeks like the rest of the state, which was slow to react to COVID-19. Belt said he has spoken to doctors "quite a bit" about the risks and will continue to take precautions. 

The Giants are doing the right things during training sessions and continue to mold their plans for the season. But when the games start and wins and losses are on the line, there's only so much that can be done to parts of the game that have been around for a century. The first few actual games later this month will give them a better idea of how to handle nine innings. 

[RELATED: Giants add four to player pool]

"The landscape is going to continually change and we're going to have to adjust and modify how we do things," Posey said. "That's just the reality of the world we're living in right now."